Evanston comedian and podcaster Peter-john Byrnes will record a live performance album with ComedySportz of Chicago Monday night. “The inspiration was real life…but that’s very much a departure from what I usually do on-stage,” Byrnes says.

“I don’t mind risking an occasional wince from an audience by telling a joke that’s pointed or dark, but ordinarily people don’t come to see me to pull their heartstrings.”

Byrnes is host of the podcast “This Week in Despair” which he records from his downtown Evanston studio. “Despair” features guest speakers, whose reactions to weekly news stories spun comical by Byrnes form the core of the podcast. The podcast is downloaded across the United States and in over 40 foreign countries, boasting a strange popularity in Finland.

“It’s the craziest thing,” Byrnes said of the Finns. “The short answer was that I was on a stand-up comedy podcast that already had a number of Finnish listeners, and they followed me over to my own show… Finland is the country with the most dedicated listeners, because I see them all tear through the back catalog like locusts…perhaps they’re all expats looking for a little angry taste of home, or maybe they’re reaching out. I know there was at least one listener in China who wrote me and told me he was using the show to improve his vocabulary, which was clearly a terrible idea, given the show’s more, um, biological topics…”

“There’s a guy up in Alaska who loves the show so much he’s told me he’s listened to every episode more than once. I mean, I do that, but I have to listen to them to help with editing them. But that’s the guy I think about when I’m considering slacking off on the next episode. And the Finns. They’re giving me their time, and they seem to get something back. I don’t want to disappoint them.”

A resident of Evanston since 1996, Byrnes co-produced the Double-Shot Showcase for a time, and has also produced and performed in shows at Bistro Bordeaux. Speaking on the Evanston comedy scene, Byrnes said, “In so far as stand-up is concerned, if you had asked me six months ago I would have said, ‘Non-existent.’ I co-produced a weekly show in a local coffee house for over a year a while back, and it always, always struggled to get an audience, even with no admission being asked.”

“Evanston’s tough; the students who would be the natural audience are too young to get into the venues that normally host comedy, and tend to keep to themselves regardless, and the families who make up the balance of the population are running to soccer practice or some such on a weekday evening and turn in early.”

“Recently there have been signs of life. SPACE here in Evanston is now running periodic shows in association with The Lincoln Lodge, and bringing top-notch performers to Evanston. I hope the town comes out to support those shows, because that’s good for all of us. (I have nothing to do with those shows. I’m just a fan.)”

Of his own road to comedy, Byrnes speaks of several friends who inspired him to keep going. “Dan Telfer inspired me to get back into comedy after a 20 plus year absence by demonstrating that you can have nerdy subject matter and still have a following. James Fritz inspired me to not be afraid of being dark by mining laughs out of some pretty bleak places. Adam Burke inspired me by demonstrating that working to the height of one’s intelligence and vocabulary wasn’t necessarily alienating to audiences, if done honestly. Stephanie Hasz inspired me with her utter honesty about her inner turmoil on stage, and by creating a show, Comedy Secrets, where comedians are encouraged to work through very personal material in a safe space. My new album simply would not exist without that show. And Stewart Huff has inspired me by demonstrating that sincerity is nothing to be ashamed of.”

The new recording with ComedySportz, part of 100 Proof Comedy, focuses on Byrnes’ return to Los Angeles for a college reunion- “and the side trip I took while there to the grave of an ex-lover who killed herself in 1995. That’s really the tension of the show; can I make that funny without cheapening the events themselves?”

“It’s not hard to make an audience cry, and it’s often a cheap way to fool them into thinking they’ve seen something with depth when they haven’t,” Byrnes said. “‘You’ve laughed, you’ve cried, now go home.’” Byrnes hopes his show comes off differently. “What I hope is that the more somber parts of this show will put the laughs in greater relief…If you leave the show surprised by how much you laughed given the subject matter, then I’ve succeeded.”

100 Proof Comedy Presents: Peter-john Byrnes’ Live Album Recording on Monday, Oct. 19, at 929 West Belmont. Shows at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets are $7 for each show; call the Box Office at 773-549-8080.

Leave a comment

The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.